26 January 2012
“Designing a new shelter is now only a matter of minutes” thanks to TopSolid.
The company Verhofsté based in Zele, Belgium has been using software for the commercial and technical design of its steel shelters since 2006. Its €60K investment – to replace the old AutoCad software with TopSolid– has greatly accelerated development of the company’s made-to-measure products. It now only takes a few minutes to design a new shelter. This new method is also set to boost sales.
Verhofsté produces both standard shelters and made-to-measure models for its customers.
Shelter dimensions are entered into TopSolid’s spreadsheets.
With this software, it is only a matter of minutes before the customer is provided with a 3D representation of the requested shelter.
A family business
Even after over forty years of existence, Verhofsté is still a family business. The company was founded in 1963 as a general metal construction business. In the nineties, the second generation joined the business and it became a limited company. Since then the new managers have specialized in the production of all sorts of shelters for bicycles, school playgrounds, carports, platforms, smoking areas, etc.
The range now extends to street furniture such as bicycle racks, waste bins, flower tubs and benches. Verhofsté recently teamed up with MPS, a Bordeaux-based company specializing in self-cleaning public toilets. Verhofsté is now their exclusive distributor for Belgium and the Netherlands. The first contract has already been signed with Dutch railways.
Standard designs and made-to-measure models
The “shelters” division manufactures two types of product. Firstly, standard shelters produced using a standard design, made from standard material, but available in various (set) dimensions. Secondly, made-to-measure shelters based on an architect or project manager's idea.
"That had long been the situation, but we recently developed a compromise solution,” says manager Filip Verhofsté. "We now also produce shelters based on a set model, but with dimensions specified by our customers. This has enabled us to provide an offering that comes mid-way between the two set systems (standard shelters and 100% customized work). It is precisely for this application that we’ve been using Missler Softwareés TopSolid software since September 2006. We had previously been using AutoCad to present made-to-measure projects to customers. However, this had its drawbacks: we were obliged to start from scratch for every new design.”
All new models had to be completely re-drawn, and the new dimensions entered. It took several hours to design a new model in this way. So Filip Verhofsté went looking for a solution. "What we needed was an easy-to-use software package, that didn’t require much training. Above all, the tool we were looking for had to make it possible to quickly deliver customer proposals along with a fully technical drawing. Thanks to the new TopSolid software, it now only takes a few minutes to design a new shelter. We consulted Luc Cornelis from 4D Services in Ternat as part of the process."
Filip Verhofsté is categorical, “It took several months of work, for both ourselves and the software supplier, but the result was worth it. We communicated our requirements to the supplier and explained our former way of working. The supplier then developed the software to match. This may have taken a while, but that was simply down to the fact that we worked in such close cooperation.”
Designs and dimensions with TopSolid
The software allows for several standard models. When designing a new made-to-measure shelter, a model is firstly selected and then the dimensions are entered into the spreadsheet (free length, width and height). Then the desired column shape is entered, the required material and the number of load-bearing structural members. At the touch of a button, the computer performs the calculations and returns the result in the shape of a 3D drawing of the shelter, a 2D technical drawing and a list of parts. The model may then be scaled up or down in an instant.
Associative and parametric
TopSolid is an open system able to read and write all known file types (DXF, DWG, IGES, SAT, ACIS, STEP, etc.). This is important when it comes to importing and exporting existing designs. The software is associative, which means that all links established during the drawing phase are kept up-to-date.
It is also parametric. So, when the values, figures and other settings are modified, the whole design is adapted.
Library and unfolding sheet metal parts
The software includes a vast library of nuts, bolts, sections, etc. which is delivered with the software as standard. It can be enriched with new elements; all the necessary tools for doing this are also provided as standard. The customer can therefore add its own library items.
In addition, the program features an unfolding/unrolling module for sheet metal parts, which takes bend allowance into account. The software can also generate composition drawings and detail drawings and automatically calculate the cross-section.
Faster and more professionnal
“TopSolid saves us considerable time,” states Filip Verhofsté. "A project manager can now easily develop and follow-up several projects. Furthermore, it has simplified the development of new models and in no time at all customers receive a 3D representation of the shelter they wish to have built. Any modifications they wish to make can be applied extremely quickly.
Customers can see the newly adapted result within a few minutes. This method of working enables us to offer a much more professional service to our customers. I am convinced that this will have a positive impact on our sales. I’m not currently in a position to provide tangible proof to this effect, because the software has only been operational for six months.
Nevertheless, if we go to our customers armed with this software, it is bound to get results.”
The software does not control the production machines either. "It is an option but we chose not to take up on it,” continues Filip Verhofsté. “Here in Belgium, we only manufacture made-to-measure products. It is not worth launching automated production if only one copy of a specific model needs to be made. It is a different matter at our plant in Slovakia. However, the wages there are still reasonable enough to allow for entirely manual, non-automated production.”
The implementation of the new software required intensive training. Firstly, six days of basic training, followed by a lengthy practical period. “I would say it took us two months to fully master the software."
Verhofsté is now applying for a European patent for this software. The concept has been christened ‘Cameleon’.